His Fight for Freedom
Local libertarian leader Terry Franklin has waged many battles over the years on behalf of liberty, but none more strenuously than against Amherst Town Hall on behalf of the annual music and politics festival known as the Extravanganja held to oppose civil liberty violations caused by the drug war. The recent retirement of Amherst Police Chief Charles Sherpa was cause for reflection by Franklin on his many encounters over the years with local authorities and their attempts to undermine the festival. Franklin tried to get the local mainstream media to print this brief memoir but was unsuccessful. Therefore I am glad to offer this space to report information the rest of the local media would not.
The retirement, this past year, of Amherst police chief Charley Scherpa, along with that of Barry Del Castilho earlier as Amherst town manager, brings to a close an era. I dealt with the two of them as implacable enemies over the course of twelve years. With the "Extravaganja" coming up in a couple of months, and new authorities in office, now is a good time to reflect on the "confrontation" (Barry's term), and to clarify the history.
Why did we continue fighting them for so long? Why not just make a show of it for a year or two, for honor's sake, then quietly fold tents and call it quits?
More than anything else, we stuck with it in order to offer a lesson to their successors, and to other officials elsewhere, that there are Americans with stamina and dedication, willing to stand up for principles.
Nominally this was about Amherst's annual marijuana legalization rally. A review: I was summoned to a closed door meeting with the two gentlemen in question, where I was talked down to like a child, had my integrity insulted, and was effectively ordered not to embarrass the town by promoting the legalization cause in the media, "or else anything can happen." Afterward, in that atmosphere, the Cannabis Reform Coalition managed to pull off our rallies; but only by enduring everything from red tape requirements that went on seemingly without end, to physical intimidation, as when a team of mounted police marched their horses up and faced the audience, standing there in a scene reminiscent of that in "Doctor Zhivago," where the Cossacks attack the protesters.
We realized that if they would apply that kind of pressure to us, they would bully other dissenters as well. Someone needed to stand up to them.
Since I have often been press spokesman for several of the legalization groups in town, there may be some mistaken notions as to my views. People may think I smoke pot myself, think there is something good about it, support its use, or whatever. In truth, I could care less about marijuana, per se. I do, however, care deeply about scapegoating, picking on the weak, and pushing people around.
Marijuana laws are the most egregious example in our country of government intrusion causing human suffering. It is worth remembering that largely because of marijuana arrests, the number of black citizens in jail, on probation, and on parole, is, at any given time, roughly equal to the number of slaves held at the time of the Civil War.
The town manager and chief were tough adversaries. They did things I didn't agree with -- most notably, hurting third parties. At rallies in the late 90s, where police arrested 18 people specifically in order to put pressure on me to not speak with reporters. While it is true those 18 were in possession of marijuana, that would have been ignored had I not persisted in publicizing our issue as a valid political cause. The chief would have let us "get away" with "having a party," if we did it quietly and with shame. The way the chief was prepared to wink and nod so easily, gives one an insight as to how much "the law" really meant to him.
They played hard ball. In my responses, I kind of like to think I was able, a couple of times, to bat one back fast enough to make them duck. As to why they fought so hard, one can only speculate. There must have been some political hay to be made in attacking us; it had to be more than the mere enjoyment of trying to push people around, though I have never been able to see what they gained.
The side of Liberty did gain however.
I like to recall the story of Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy, right after their first meeting with Sheriff Clark in Selma. King reportedly joked: "When this is all over, we'll probably have to give him some sort of Civil Rights award."
In Amherst's case, among the winners, certainly, at the very least, is Free Speech. But I believe there is more. The trouble these men caused the legalization movement went far in promoting solidarity and vigor. They were instrumental in the passage of the 2000 local referendum vote on legalization -- leading to dozens of other similar votes across the state, and eventually to Question 2 in 2008, and to the proposed full legalization bill, which came up for a hearing before a committee of the Massachusetts legislature last October. [And another hearing in 2 weeks!] That, in turn, has inspired others all across the country -- including Ron Paul, Barney Frank, and Mike Capuano's legalization efforts on the federal level.
Thanks Barry and Charley for not leaving people alone.
And thank you Terry, for all you do on behalf of the cause of liberty in our Valley. And by the way, the date has been announced for this year's Extravaganja. It will be held on the town common on Saturday, April 17th. Here's a video I made walking back from last year's festival, showing what a financial boom the Extravaganja provides for the local economy.
Smiling trees in front of a UMass partyhouse after yesterday's snowstorm.
I doubt that a smile was the expression on this bike owner's face when he got out of class and saw this:
I like this tripped out art by Nina Garcia now on display at the Student Union Art Gallery.
Jay in his bathroom studio.